In the span of five months, nearly 350 passengers and flight crew members lost their lives in two separate plane crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane, the first in Indonesia in October and the most recent in Ethiopia on Sunday.
These crashes are first and foremost human tragedies. The loss of so many human lives, including generations of family members according to some reports, merits mourning and reflection.
This must also be a moment to extensively review the mechanical integrity and proper functioning of the type of aircraft involved, as well as pilot and crew training and other safety measures worldwide.
To that end, President Trump was right Wednesday to call for the Federal Aviation Administration to ground all 737 Max planes until further analysis can be completed.
Aviation agencies in several other countries had already taken similar action following the Ethiopia crash.
And some passengers in the United States didn’t feel safe flying on the 737 Max 8 until a more thorough investigation into the circumstances of the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes is completed.
Thus, it is entirely sensible for the FAA, out of an abundance of caution, to take additional safety measures. Doing so is the most straightforward way to reassure the flying public that air travel remains exceedingly safe in the United States.
And that is, of course, still the case.
The FAA, which rightly is considered the global authority on airplane safety, handles more than 43,000 flights per day, on average, carrying millions of passengers. But there hasn’t been a commercial aircraft accident resulting in mass casualties in the United States in a decade.
In fact, of the more than 37 million flights worldwide in 2018, only 15 ended in accidents causing fatalities, according to the Aviation Safety Network as reported by The Washington Post.
By contrast, there were more than 34,000 fatal car crashes in the United States alone in 2017, and about 3,200 people die each day in car crashes worldwide on average, according to the Association for Safe International Travel.
In other words, getting on a commercial plane is a lot safer than far more routine activities that many of us take for granted. And that record — particularly in the United States — is thanks in no small part to leadership from the FAA and other safety-related agencies and organizations.
None of this lessens the tragedy of the loss of lives in Ethiopia or in Indonesia. And it remains of vital importance to find the causes of those crashes and work to prevent future disasters.
In the meantime, grounding planes and conducting a detailed investigation are the surest way to confirm and reinforce the safety of air travel generally and of the 737 Max 8 specifically.